CASH-STRAPPED Bayswater council will spend up to $50,000 figuring out why it doesn’t have enough money.
Concerns over the council’s long-term financial health were raised at a closed-doors workshop in March, and this week mayor Filomena Piffaretti moved to obtain “an independent detailed analysis of expenditure, revenue and financial management over the past five years … to understand the current financial situation” and determine “the causes of the predicted deficit position” for the upcoming budget.
The motion came after Perth Now published an article saying “leaked documents” from March’s workshop showed Bayswater was facing significant deficits for the coming budget, with more financial pain likely in the future.
Cr Piffaretti has been on council since 2017 but was voted mayor by a majority of councillors in October 2021, winning out over previous mayor Dan Bull.
The tone was tense in the chamber at the April 26 meeting where Cr Piffaretti presented her motion, with a sense the analysis might be looking to blame the former regime for the current financial position in the wake of the budget leak.
Cr Piffaretti said: “It’s time to deal with the problems and do so honestly and openly.
“That’s what an independent report will allow us to do.”
She said a bird’s eye view was needed of council decisions and assumptions “free from any perception that the city might be trying to justify itself or not be as transparent as possible”.
Cr Josh Eveson, who supported Cr Piffaretti’s bid for mayor, said “financial sustainability and planning for the future are the key reasons I became a councillor.
“Five years ago I raised concerns about the short-term view and questionable leadership focus being applied to ratepayer funds, and now I’m on council I’m privy to information that hasn’t made me any less concerned about what I had seen happening.
“Over the five years as my concern grew, I continued to see money spent on ‘nice to haves’… I essentially saw defunding of key services to help bridge this gap that was created by this behaviour, which was very unsettling.”
He said the analysis was needed because “council needs to understand the causes, deeply consider solutions, and place the utmost focus on minimising the financial burden on ratepayers, residents, and businesses”.
Cr Bull, who was mayor for four of the five years the analysis would look at, said it was odd to spend money on this new analysis when their finances were already scrutinised by the auditor general’s office.
He said it also was not unusual for the first look at the budget to project a deficit, as happened at the March workshop.
“The first cut of the budget always looks hard … you throw everything but the kitchen sink into the first cut of the budget, and then it’s up to us as councillors to work towards a balanced budget based on what we consider are the priorities for our community.
“That is our job, and this year is no different.”
The council’s finance staff, already operating on a skeleton crew, were concerned that compiling data for an independent analysis would be a distraction from preparing the 2022-2023 budget.
Cr Sally Palmer, a supporter of Cr Bull, said: “This is an investigation, and I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it’s utterly crazy to do this to our financial team… they’re short on staff.”
Ultimately councillors Lorna Clarke, Catherine Ehrhardt, Assunta Meleca, Elli Petersen-Pik, Michelle Sutherland and Piffaretti voted in favour of paying for the new independent analysis, with councillors Bull, Palmer, and Giorgia Johnson opposed.
The motion tasks the CEO with finding the $50,000 from “savings identified … in the 2021/2022 budget”.
Some councillors were still wanting to know who leaked the budget workshop documents to the press, but acting CEO Cliff Frewing had decided against an investigation because: “I have no evidence before me to suggest that the documents are confidential”.
by DAVID BELL